The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #2

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #2

This is the second part of the planning/construction of the Shinaksen. Its straight in to the history! The construction of the Shinkansen would require enormous investment, some thought it would be as much as 200 billion yen. A significant proportion of the funds would have to be raised from banking institutes. In 1959 the Minister of the Treasury, Eisaku Sato, advised the JNR they should apply for a loan from the World Bank. That would amount to 100 million dollars. There were many conditions bound to this loan however.

What it meant was the JNR had to show that the new technologies being proposed (high speed trains, monoque train bodies, advanced train bogies, automated signalling, and the rest of it) were not to be the objectives for the funding that was being given. In other words the funds were not to be used for experimentation. They also had to show there would be a sufficient economic benefit from having a new high speed line (this would be rather like like the cost benefit ratio we use nowadays.) And the railway company had to show how it could justify any use of foreign money.

The World Bank gives JNR a substantial loan

In terms of ‘experimental technologies’ the JNR demonstrated to the World Bank these had already been developed, largely as a work entailing improvements with a focus on the country’s narrow gauge system. The New Tokaido Line would of course benefit from this and meant one of the major conditions of the loan had been overcome considerably. The other conditions attached to the loan would be analysed and assessed by the World bank as the project’s construction got underway.

On May 2, 1961, a loan of 80 million dollars from the World Bank was authorised. This worked out at just 28.8 billion yen opposed to the top estimated construction cost of 200 billion yen. This 80 million dollar loan was one of the largest ever the World Bank had made. And of course it wasn’t just JNR who would be held to account if things somehow went wrong. The Japanese Government too would be held to account because it had given its backing.

In a way this was what Shinji Sogō wanted – a full commitment to the project from both JNR and the Government of Japan.

Signing the paperwork to seal a $80 million loan to JNR for the Shinkansen. Shinji Sogō at right. I had this image coloured specially. Source: World Bank Japan

The World Bank agreed in 1961 to finance construction of the New Tokaido Line. Shinji Sogō’s signature can be seen. Source: Coqtez Blog

At this time it was hoped the new railway would be completed in readiness for an April 1964 opening later revised to mid 1964 as evident from World Bank documentation. By September 1962 that was looking unlikely and a revised date of October 1964 was eventually given, which would mean the high speed line would be ready just before the Tokyo Olympics opened on 11th October 1964.

The Schedule in the World Bank loan agreement of May 1961, detailing the new railway in brief plus a completion date of mid-1964.

Having secured a loan from the World Bank, the JNR could now fully proceed with the construction of its new railway…

Early construction pictures

The work to build the line could now begin in earnest. Intensive surveys of the route were undertaken.

As described in the first part of this feature, the initial route had first been surveyed in 1939 by Shigenari Oishi. The final alignment, again a preliminary survey, was once again surveyed by Oishi and this is the one that was adopted. Aeroplanes were used to chart the exact course and plot that onto aerial photographs and maps from which the ground based survey teams could then proceed, undertaking the more detailed surveys of the new railway alignment.

Shigenari Oishi – who surveyed the course of the Shinkansen twice by walking the entire route!

The very early beginnings of the New Tokaido Line – a construction site being established near Odawara. Source: The Sheep’s House

The first pier to be built for the new Shin-Sakagawa Railway Bridge. This bridge would be adjacent to the New Tokaido Line testing centre. Source: The Sheep’s House

The line under construction near Kamomiya, 1961. This part was completed early because it was to be a 37 km long test track. Source: City of Odawara

The extent of the Kamomiya test track which extended from a point west of Yokohama to west of Odawara. Some of the Shinkansen’s earliest infrastructure can still be seen along this section.

The reason for the test track being located by Odawara was because of the privately owned Odakyu Electric Railway. They were planning on initiating a competitive service between Tokyo and Odawara. However when the plans for the New Tokaido Line were announced the Odakyu Electric Railway instead began a collaboration of research with the JNR – one result of this was the decision to build the Shinkansen test line in the Odawara region. It too was a nod to the earlier high speed experiments with the Class 151 Kodama express in 1959 as these had taken place locally too.

Bentenyama Tunnel (1316m) under construction in March 1961. Source: The Sheep’s House

Stations such as Shin Yokohama and Odawara were begun very early on in the project.

The first of the foundations for Shin-Yokohama station was dug in 1962. Source: Hamarepo

The start of the construction for Odawara station 1962. Note the tunnel in the distance. Source: City of Odawara

The New Tokaido Line under construction near Oiso-cho. June 1962. Source: Isok

After the routes had been established during early stages of construction the narrow gauge was laid along part of the new high speed routes and then trains either used to deliver infrastructure – or the brand new prototype high speed trains to Kamomiya depot – with the result a number of sections of the Shinkansen temporarily had dual gauge track.

Experiments to further improve the technology for the Super Dream Express trains were of course continued but had to be conducted on the country’s narrow gauge system because the terms of the World Bank Loan dictated the new high speed line couldn’t be used solely for experiments – apart from testing the prototypes and trialling the high speed line of course.

The Shinkansen’s engineer Hideo Shima, at the cab of a EF63 electric locomotive in 1962 during test runs evaluating prototype high speed bogies. Source: Emira

As mentioned briefly in the first post, it was Hideo Shima who came up with most of the designs for the new high speed railway, including the use of multiple units (which he called a centipede train.) Clearly he was not satisfied with the ability of electric locomotives in being able to do the work necessary to pull trains at high speeds.

Of course the design of a ‘centipede train’ also led to the development of a specialised air flow nose for the front of the train. This was based upon the idea of planes and the concept of having the carriages practically connected to each other without a break would allow the air flows to pass over and along the train in the least inconvenient ways, especially in terms of noise.

The Bentenyama tunnel. June 1962. This would be one of the tunnels on the 37 km stretch of test track from Kamomiya. Source: Isok

The problem perhaps was trying to adopt airline technology to trains! Planes don’t normally fly under bridges and through tunnels for a start. This meant the airliner type cone devised for the bullet trains wasn’t perfect. Thus, as in the example of the picture above, a high speed object of substantial size would displace an amount of air far greater than what could be reasonably managed and that would cause discomfort. Part of the solution which was devised along with the trains’ airliner type nose, was to seal the train off completely from any source of external air pressure. The solution had to be ingenious. There’s a feature on the technical aspects of the new railway which will cover this and other instances in terms of the formidable technology and engineering aspects of the early sixties.

JNR practically goes broke and Sogō resigns

JNR’s chairman Shinji Sogō had been instrumental in getting the New Tokaido Line off the ground and its construction underway. It was a very expensive railway though, and its true costs were apparently not divulged because Sogō feared the money would have not been available in the first place.

What it meant was the government was encouraged to contribute funds and the World Bank to give a loan. Had they known the fullest costs this wouldn’t have happened. The financing process was actually more complex than this however its just the essence of how the arrangement basically worked.

However the crunch point in terms of finance came much sooner than anyone had expected, least of all Shinji Sogō himself when the news was revealed in May 1963:

How the world learnt of the JNR’s financial woes. The advisory committee requested that Shinji Sogō should not be held responsible for any mismanagement. Source: World Bank

The true costs of the New Tokaido Line were discovered because JNR had found itself almost broke. Although many didn’t want Sogō to resign, he personally took it upon himself to do the neccessary honour along with Hideo Shima who also opted to resign. In respect of his enormous efforts Sogō was recognised as the ‘Father of the Shinkansen.’

Sogō very simply said of his resignation ‘I’m happy as long as the Shinkansen runs safely. That’s all I wanted.’

The World Bank had of course watched with increasing concern as the costs of the New Tokaido Line rose. They had accountants whose job it was to monitor the line’s progress and the finance that was being used to build it. Detailed monthly reports were issued to the bank’s directors and they had grown increasingly concerned at the rate the money was being spent.

Previously the costs had rose from 197 billion yen (just short of the earlier expected 200 billion Yen cut-off) to 293 billion yen, which had got the World Bank very worried. In due course the bank discovered the costs of the New Tokaido Line had in fact gone up to 380 billion yen.

The reasons for the huge increases in costs were given as follows:

(a) increase in the cost of right of way and land acquisition;
(b) increase due to changes in design at the request of the
Government and local agencies;
(c) increase due to changes in design and construction as a
result of the experience during the execution of works;
(d) increase due to necessary improvements in design as a result
of the test runs of the prototype cars; and
(e) increase due to the rise in the cost of labour and material.

The person who took over from Shinji Sogō as president of JNR was Reisuke Ishida, whose appointment was made on 19th May 1963. If you’ve seen the photographs or film of the Shinkansen’s official opening on 1st Octber 1964, Ishida is the one officiating in the ceremony at Tokyo, cutting the tape in order to signal the start of the new high speed services.

Reisuke Ishida was JNR’s oldest ever president at the age of 77. People questioned this but he replied ‘I feel like a young soldier.’ Source: Mitsui

JNR’s estimates of the costs which would be needed to complete the New Tokaido Line. Source: World Bank

As we have seen, the additional costings amounting to 179 billion yen expected to be needed to complete the new line had brought the total estimated costs to 380 billion yen. In reality it was perhaps somewhere nearer 400 billion yen!

In the next section we look at the beginnings of the ‘Super Dream Express.’

Continued in Part Three of the Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history

Other posts in the series:

The Tokaido Shinkansen (introduction)

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #1

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #2

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #3

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #4

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #5

The last three (never published) are focused on specific aspects of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen:

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #6: Tunnels/Kozens/Hankyu

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #7: Freight/Depots/Viaducts

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #8: Dr. Yellow/Train Control